House Democratic leaders told rank-and-file members on a conference call on Monday that FBI Director James Comey’s letter sent to Capitol Hill in late October indicating more Clinton emails were under review hurt the party’s chances in the effort to retake control of the House of Representatives.
The top House Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, who has been publicly critical of the FBI director, called Comey’s letter “out of line” according to one Democrat on the call, but said it did have the benefit of boosting fundraising efforts from some small donors to House candidates.
New York Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler raised the letter on the call, which was scheduled as a periodic update for members on the state of the race, according to the source, and pressed the leadership to give their assessment of the political impact. Few believed that Democrats could win back the majority because of the small number of competitive districts, but some had renewed hope last month when some polls gave Clinton a double-digit lead
“The fact is we had a momentum going with Hillary’s campaign,” Pelosi said.
She explained to her colleagues that the FBI’s announcement helped Republican voters “come home.” As a result, the chances for Democrats to flip the balance in the House was weakened as Trump narrowed in on Clinton.
“A couple of points nationwide has an impact on our races,” she said.
Politico first reported on the conference call on Monday.
House Democratic sources indicated to CNN that the letter did alter the trajectory in some states, especially where Clinton had built up a lead, that was helping down ballot candidates. One of these senior Democratic aides told CNN that the intense focus after the Comey letter could have put as many as a dozen Republican seats thought to be competitive out of reach for the party.
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, chair of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, told those on the call that he didn’t have any “direct data” about the fallout of the Comey letter, but stressed, as he has all year, “we are tied to the national environment.”
Lujan also criticized Comey’s handling of the investigation, saying the release of the unexpected letter coming just 11 days before the election “was unacceptable.”
South Carolina Democratic Rep Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, told Democrats on the call that Comey’s letter “had a tremendous adverse impact with our standing with independents.”
Pelosi signaled that Democrats are unlikely top pick up as many seats as some were predicting just a couple of weeks ago, saying, “we would be in a better place (without the letter) and in the manner he did it.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a radio interview on Monday that he felt “very good” that Republicans would maintain a “strong majority” in the House of Representatives after Tuesday’s elections.
Pelosi reported that she spoke with Clinton on Sunday, saying “I thanked her for her leadership and courage on behalf of our caucus. I relayed to her that our caucus stands strongly with her tomorrow and beyond.”